What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him
Byron Yawn has the ignominious distinction of being the first person to ever invite me to be a keynote speaker at a conference. That was a long time ago, and it seems like an even longer time, but he and I have stayed in touch since then and I was excited to hear of his work on a book titled What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him. I had anticipated that I would be reading a book on fatherhood, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is actually far more than that.
It seems notable that I am writing this review on the occasion of my son’s twelfth birthday. It is probable that he is already more than half way to striking out on his own, to marrying, to beginning a family. I've already used up half of my opportunities to teach him what a father ought to teach his son. This is the kind of thought that can very nearly move me to tears; rarely do I feel less up to the task and more dependent on grace than in fatherhood. In that regard this book was both a challenge and a comfort.
What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him is a book of essays more than it is a book that flows easily and logically from the first chapter to the last; the topics are much like the lessons a father will teach his son in that they meander a little bit, wandering from being a son to being a father and a man and a husband. They extend from biblical manhood to sincerity to pornography to having “the talk” with your son, to integrity. Each one is punctuated by wisdom that is sometimes biblical and sometimes, well, just plain practical (At least to my recollection the Bible doesn't comment on why you don't want to cut into a steak to see if it's ready to eat). These are not lessons for me to teach my son; not first and foremost. These are first lessons I need to learn and apply to my own life. There is a proper order to these things.
The book offers value in its big picture and it offers value in individual sentences or paragraphs. Some of the best of what Yawn teaches (Go ahead and make fun of his last name--it's all been said before!) comes in the form of pithy quotes and helpful little phrases.
- What the church needs are warriors of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not boys trapped in men's bodies. Gospel ministry on the local church level begins with men. No pastor is truly leading if he is not raising them up.
- You never move beyond the gospel to a more sophisticated or timely wisdom. There is no more intricate or relevant wisdom than the cross. God has nothing more to offer.
- That image of Jesus, the maker of heaven and earth, on His knees like a commonplace servant washing the disciples' feet is the most complete image of manhood known to us.
- This is a serious gut check. We have to ask ourselves whether or not our desire for change in our spouse is ultimately motivated by a desire for personal happiness or for God's glory.
- We have to love Christ more than we love our spouse to actually love our spouse as we should.
- The cross simultaneously declares two indispensable realities. First, it proclaims the unbelievable news about the grace of God. God loves sinners and sent His Son to redeem them. It is unconditional and radical love on display. Every time we behold it we rejoice. Second, the cross communicates the most brutal assessment of man's condition we will ever face. We're worse than we let on. We'll never be as honest about ourselves as the cross is.
And so on.
The book levels a challenge at me, a challenge to be a better man, which is to say a man who follows the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. It levels a particular challenge as I consider that these are the kinds of lessons I want to convey to my son. Thankfully the book also brings me comfort that the Lord is stronger than I am and that he can fill up what is lacking in me. Even the best of fathers will do an incomplete job, for such is fatherhood in a sinful, distracting, distracted world. Even the best of fathers will end their days with some regret, sorry for all they didn’t teach their sons and all they didn’t accomplish.
What this book offers is interesting, helpful, mature reflections on what it means to be a man, to be a husband, to be a father. These are the little pearls of wisdom that too few men bequeath to their sons. This is manhood at its best, not some pathetic Eldredge-like counterfeit, but manhood grounded in the gospel and reflecting Jesus Christ.